My personal experience with accessibility

For the last 13 years I have been living with an eye condition which slowly eats away bits of peripheral vision causing what is known as tunnel vision.

In the last year sight started getting a bit wonkier so I began looking into things that would allow me to stay independent like mobility training and using a cane.   It has not been an easy decision to make but it has allowed me realise so many things about life with a visual impairment I decided to start blogging.

In the past 3 months I have learned that less than 10% of people registered blind in the UK have got no light perception – i.e live in total black. This means that about 90% of people preserve different levels of vision and live in a world between sight and blindness called low vision (more information on the NHS Choices website).

This figures are not so different world wide.  According to the World Health Organisation there are 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired (39 million are blind and 246 have low vision).

This news came in weeks before I was registered blind (aka. severely visually impaired). 

There are many medical conditions that cause low vision, like glaucoma, macular degeneration or in my case retinitis pigmentosa. I am not planning to cover this in detail on this blog. What I do want to highlight is the fact that a significant number of us live in the world of low vision for a good number of years (depending on the condition it might even be a good part of our lives).

As a web developer and a keen photographer this has come as a big realisation of my own misconceptions about blindness and visual impairment.

With a few special adaptations I am perfectly able to use computers and mobiles phones through relying on a mix of magnification and special screen setup.  Occasionally I would also use dictation and screen readers to reduce eye strain but this is not the main way I interact with technology.

Through this blog I hope to be able to share how I experience the web and use mobile devices in the hope that other people working in the industry gain deeper understanding of visual impairment and the need to design with this in mind.

I also hope to share some of my photography and the motivation behind it, as well as useful tools and tips for the visually impaired.

A few things I started looking into in the last few weeks were ways to reduce eye strain.

High contrast

Depending on specific circumstances people with low vision might be highly sensitive to light and glare. Reading black text on a white background can cause eye fatigue and headaches.

Best way to remedy this is changing settings on the computer to read white or yellow text on black background. This is easily done on Apple operating system through accessibility settings. Windows has got a few high contrast themes too.

The obvious draw back to using hight contrast is it inverts colours on photos and videos. Not great when it comes to editing images, using specific applications / websites and watching movies.

I use high contrast for a vast majority of tasks but have to revert back occasionally (mostly because applications are not very accessible).

Chrome high contrast extension

For my particular eye condition I tend to have to reduce the brightness of the computer monitor. However this might make it difficult to read text.

This extension allows increasing the contrast of black text on white screen. It is also possible to invert colours / invert grayscale and set up a default appearance for different websites.

High contrast is available for download completely free on the link below:

Download chrome high contrast extension

i.Flux

Ideal for managing exposure to blue light from computer screens. Useful for anyone working long hours with computers but specially for those with light sensitivity. Available for download totally free from the link below:

Download i.Flux

Magnification

People living with low vision often struggle to read small text. This is when magnification software comes in very handy.

Zoom works brilliantly on my MacbookPro and it comes as part of the operating system (high five to Apple). However I wish there was more flexibility to customise text size across the operating system (it can only be increased to 16pt).

Windows offers more flexibility in customising text size across the operating system through display settings. Not very familiar with similar technology available for Windows. More on this in future posts.

The obvious drawback of magnification is working space, and the quickest way around it is a big screen – or in some cases a set of screens. But more on this another time.

Also keep an eye out for more insight on accessibility tips and apps for mobile phones (Android is turning out to be disappointing in this front).

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share and comment.

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